Monday, January 31, 2011

Who is God?

When I first started this blog over two years ago, the biggest issue I grappled with, other than the chronic pain, was whether or not God existed. My suffering was so great that my vision of the world became incredibly narrow, and it seemed that all I saw was suffering all around me. I couldn’t understand how God, if he existed, could let it happen.

I’ve been revisiting this question again in recent weeks as I find myself praying more, something I never thought I’d ever do again, and I’m wondering what has changed. Have I forgiven God for my state, or has my understanding of a greater power changed?

Yesterday I was doing some research, and I revisited the Amazon listing of When Bad Things Happen to Good People by Harold Kushner, a rabbi who lost his son to the premature aging disease, and was intrigued by the reader reviews. Many people gave the book five stars, thanking the good rabbi for restoring their faith in God again, but many also gave the book just one star, as they found themselves depressed by his belief in an impotent god—a god who suffers with us when we suffer, but who is powerless to intervene on our behalf.

Many readers had obviously suffered terrible tragedies in their lives, like losing a child, and they just couldn’t accept the notion of a supreme being not being able to step in with a miracle. One bereaved mother sadly said of her life, “I will never believe in God again.”

I remember having these exact feelings about my own life and about the book as well, as an impotent god seems about as good as having no god at all. While Kushner’s writing is beautiful, and his story is heartbreaking, I remember feeling sad when I first read his book, as perhaps back then I just didn’t want to believe that we live in such a random world.

Yet when I stop and think about it, I think the rabbi and I have come to similar conclusions about life and suffering—first, that random things do happen in this world, and second, that what we can count in terms of the divine is compassion, for ourselves and others.

Yet where we differ is perhaps the notion of God himself. The rabbi believes that he does indeed exist, and in his book I got the feeling that he just didn’t want to let go of the god of the Old Testament—the father figure sitting majestically in Heaven, overseeing us all in our daily lives. But what I’ve come to believe, I think, is that God is more of a force—something that moves within each of us, and manifests in the form of all good things, like truth, compassion, art and love.

While it’s true I suffer day in and day out (today was a very bad day, in fact), I have to remind myself that there are countless researchers and scientists out there who are uncovering the mysteries of pain every day, many of whom no doubt witnessed a loved one in their own lives who suffered with relentless pain.

They are motivated by compassion and love, as are all those who start research foundations to find cures for diseases. So many of these organizations are named for those who lost the fight, and it’s the loved ones left behind who become determined to right the wrong, so to speak, by not letting their loved ones die in vain. They are moved by compassion not to see other families similarly destroyed, and so they take up arms to raise money, to organize walkathons, to stimulate research.

When I pray these days, I find myself talking to the “Great Spirit,” and I’ve no idea why that particular name has surfaced. For one thing, it’s genderless in my mind, and I feel it almost like the wind—something I can’t see but that I know is there. It’s the source of all goodness, and when I speak to it, I can sometimes feel its love for me, as strange as that may sound. It’s more of a sense that it’s a force that is on my side, that is there to guide me through this treacherous minefield of life, and when I take the time to surrender my questions, I do indeed get answers, and this often startles me.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve by no means figured anything out, and I doubt anyone ever will. There’s simply no way any of us will ever figure out the mysteries of the universe, no matter how deep science may delve into the matter. All we have to go on is the proof as it arises, and the proof for me are these answers I seem to get when I take the time to look deeply into my heart and humbly ask for guidance.

Do I think this is God? Whatever it is, I’m grateful for its appearance, but I’m not suffering any the less because of it. In fact, most days still blur in this lingering malaise, and I do ask frequently why I, or anyone, have had to suffer at all.

Yet in the grand scheme of things, if there is indeed an afterlife, my life on this planet will truly seem like a fraction of a second when one thinks about how long our universe has been around. And maybe then I’ll understand why I had to suffer so during this particular tenure of my life on Earth.

Does that understanding of things help me right now? A little—for the moment, anyway.

Today I watched a History Channel show about the blood diamonds in Sierra Leone, and saw suffering on such a grand scale. It was an interesting juxtaposition to watch the horrors depicted in the show interspersed with commercials that reflect the beautiful lives we enjoy in our own culture. It made me want to do something, other than just sit and watch in horror, as I know just how frightening and harrowing life can be. I thought that perhaps I should look for a job with one of these organizations and put my writing skills to better use than just as a means to pay my bills.

Perhaps that’s the god force working within me—the tangible manifestation of compassion born out of the terrible suffering of my own. Maybe that’s who and what God really is, and maybe that’s enough—for now, anyway. It’s all rather new.


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